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Mock NBA expansion draft
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Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division, Northwest Division and Southeast Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic passes Jason Kidd to make Dallas history. At age 21.

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Luka Doncic passes Jason Kidd to make Dallas history. At age 21. It took 44 games into his rookie season before Luka Doncic racked up his first triple-double, notching it against the Bucks on Jan. 21, 2019.

In the 78 games since then, he has racked up 21 more. The latest came on Wednesday night when he scored 30 points, had 17 rebounds and 10 assists in a Dallas win against New Orleans.

That one moved Doncic past Jason Kidd for the most triple-doubles all-time in Mavericks’ history. Doncic just turned 21 six days ago. Jason Kidd is… well, Hall of Famer Jason Kidd. But also older. And it took him close to 500 games to get there.

Do you want even more record-setting history from the 21-year-old? Here you go:

Doncic — who is going to get some down-ballot MVP votes — picked up his 10th assist Wednesday with a sweet pocket pass to Kristaps Porzingis at a crucial point in overtime, this helped seal the Mavericks overtime win.

Porzingis had 34 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots in the Dallas victory. It continues his run of impressive plays as he has gotten his legs underneath him. It understandably took KP a while to bounce back from ACL surgery and 19 months away from the game — Mark Cuban suggested it would take a full season — but in February he averaged 25.2 points per game and shot 39.8 percent from three. He’s all the way back, and that Doncic/Porzingis pick-and-roll is going to be a problem for whoever gets them in the playoffs.

This was not a good night for the Pelicans, despite 27 from Brandon Ingram, 25 from Lonzo Ball (on 7-of-11 shooting from three), and 21 from Zion Williamson.

This loss, combined with Memphis blowing out Brooklyn, leaves New Orleans five games out of the final playoff spot in the West with 20 games to play. I don’t care how much easier the Pelicans’ schedule is the rest of the way (and it is much softer), that is likely too much ground to make up. We are not going to get our Zion vs. LeBron first-round matchup (not that Ja Morant vs. LeBron is a bad fallback).

2) Stephen Curry returns to the court Thursday night vs. Toronto. It was just four games into the season when Stephen curry suffered a fractured hand, a fluke play where Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along. It has been more than four long months of recovery.

The wait is finally over. After missing 58 games, Curry will return to the court on Thursday night in a Finals rematch against Toronto.

You think Curry is pumped?

Some fans/pundits had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr has emphatically shot that idea down. With the flattened lottery odds, that level of tanking isn’t going to help, and besides, is this a draft worth tanking for? Better off getting Curry and Andrew Wiggins some time on the court together to see if that’s going to work (not “worth what we’ve got to pay Wiggins” level of work, just work at all).

3) Speaking of returns, Damian Lillard is back, scores 22 in Blazers win. Damian Lillard strained his groin in the final minutes of the final game before the All-Star break, which means he had to sit out the actually-interesting All-Star Game plus six games after action resumed.

He was back on Wednesday night and scored 22 as Portland knocked off Washington in a game where Carmelo Anthony led the way with 25 points.

Portland needed the win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Blazers are just 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies (four games in the loss column) for the final playoff spot in the West with 20 games to play. Portland has a much easier schedule, but they need to keep racking up the wins and get a little help from Memphis to have a shot.

 

Second-year Luka Doncic sets Mavericks’ career triple-double record (video)

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DALLAS — Luka Doncic scored 30 points and broke Dallas’ career triple-double record with his 22nd, helping the Mavericks hold off the New Orleans Pelicans 127-123 in overtime Wednesday night.

Doncic added 17 rebounds and 10 assists, and Kristaps Porzingis had 34 points and 12 rebounds in the nationally televised matchup between young stars Doncic and Zion Williamson. Williamson scored 21 points in 35 minutes in the first back-to-back of his NBA career.

Just five days after his 21st birthday, Doncic broke Jason Kidd’s record for triple-doubles.

Neither team led by more than three points throughout the fourth quarter or overtime until Doncic fed Porzingis for a dunk with 49 seconds left to give Dallas a four-point lead. Doncic had hit a 3 to snap a 118-118 tie with 1:10 to play.

Williamson held up well in his first back-to-back since making his NBA debut Jan. 22. He has scored double figures in all 16 games he’s played in and has 20 points or more in his last 13.

Brandon Ingram led New Orleans with 27 points, but fouled out in overtime. Lonzo Ball added 25.

The Pelicans’ Nicolo Melli sent the game to overtime with a tying 3 with 7.4 seconds left after missing his first six 3s of the game.

The Mavericks led by as many as 11 in the first half, but New Orleans kept it close. Dallas led by two at the end of each of the first three quarters.

Williamson gave New Orleans its first lead at 75-73 when he drew contact with Maxi Kleber, who fell to the ground without a call, giving the Pelicans rookie a clear path for a dunk.

While both coaches insisted that the matchup was greater than the two young stars, both showed flashes in the opening quarter. Williamson bulled his way to the basket on two drives, while Doncic drained a 3 with the Pelicans rookie in his face at the other end.

TIP-INS

Pelicans: G J.J. Redick remains out with a left hamstring strain.

Mavericks: Coach Rick Carlisle said there is no timetable for the return of G Jalen Brunson, who missed his sixth game in a row with a right shoulder sprain. The Mavericks also played without G J.J. Barea, who was out with right ankle soreness.

BLOCK PARTY

The Mavericks set a franchise record with 11 blocks in the first half, three of those at Williamson’s expense. After Kleber swatted away one of his shots, Williamson crashed to the floor and got up shaking his head.

Dallas’ previous high was 10 blocks in a half against Philadelphia on Jan. 29, 2005.

UP NEXT

Pelicans: Host Miami on Friday night.

Mavericks: Host Memphis on Friday night.

Three Things to Know: Looking at odds to win MVP, Rookie of Year, more

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What are the odds? Examining the betting line for MVP, Rookie of the Year, more. With a little more than 20 games to go in the NBA season, the attention is shifting to the races for the NBA’s end-of-season awards…

Except some of them aren’t much of a race anymore. That includes MVP.

Let’s take a look at the current betting odds for the top races, with the odds coming via Draft Kings.

MVP
Giannis Antetokounmpo -670
Luka Doncic +800
LeBron James +900
James Harden +1200
Anthony Davis +5000
Nikola Jokic +5000
Kawhi Leonard +5000
Damian Lillard +5000

It’s Antetokounmpo and then everyone else in the odds, which reflects the attitude of voters I have spoken with. These odds also seem a little dated, the guy with the best chance to catch the Greek Freak right now — maybe the only guy — is LeBron (and he will need some luck, but he has the “carrying Kobe’s team” narrative). Doncic’s missed time due to injuries has knocked him down the board a little. Just a word of advice to people actually betting this: Don’t be tempted by the big potential payouts for Jokic or Davis, both have been good enough to make the top five, but if the bet is to win that’s not going to pay off.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Ja Morant -400
Zion Williamson +250
Kendrick Nunn +5000

This is a two man race, and it might not even be that. Yes, Zion Williamson is tearing up the league. Yes, Zion is the best player of this rookie class right now and (barring injury) will be the best in this class three years from now. Yes, we all love to watch him play.

But “availability is the best ability” and Zion can play, at most, 37 games (ultimately, he likely plays in a couple fewer than that). Morant — averaging 17.7 points and seven assists a game, leading a team expected to be one of the worst in the league to a potential playoff berth — can play in as many as 76 games, although that likely ends a few lower as well. If Morant plays 35 more games, he is the Rookie of the Year.

Matt Moore at the Action Network did a straw poll of 12 likely voters and only four said that maybe Zion could do something to catch Morant at this point. Much like when Joel Embiid didn’t win ROY because he only played in 31 games, Zion just missed too many games (and Morant has been very good).

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Anthony Davis -152
Giannis Antetokounmpo +275
Rudy Gobert +350
Brook Lopez +5000
Joel Embiid +5000

A month ago I might have said Rudy Gobert was well on his way to a three-peat, and he still might be, but the Jazz stumbling on defense of late has opened this race up. The Greek Freak and AD have legitimate chances to win it.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
Dennis Schroder +130
Lou Williams +175
Montrezl Harrell +200
Derrick Rose +1000

Another race that seems wide open, especially if the two Clippers players split the vote. That could open the door for Schroder, who has gained a lot of momentum as people realize it’s not just Chris Paul having an impressive season for the surprisingly good Thunder. There is a sentimentality behind Derrick Rose and his best season in a long time, but how bad the Timberwolves have been does not help his cause.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Brandon Ingram +150
Bam Adebayo +300
Jayson Tatum +450
Luka Doncic +500
Devonte’ Graham +1000

Graham was running away with this award early, but he has come back to earth and the race is now wide open. With everyone tuning in to see Zion, people are realizing how good Ingram has been this season. Boston’s surge may help Tatum, and both he and Adebayo surged to become All-Stars this season. Our own Dan Feldman has made the case for Doncic.

Not listed in the odds was Coach of the Year, but my sense talking to voters and people around the league is Toronto’s Nick Nurse has a narrow lead in what is a very crowded field.

2) Miami Heat defense holds Giannis Antetokounmpo to 13 points, Heat upset Bucks. Milwaukee entered Monday night having win six in a row and on pace to win 70+ games. They had lost twice in their last 20 games.

Miami just shut them down. Bam Adebayo had a fantastic defensive game, leading Miami’s ability to take away the Greek Freak’s favorite moves and make him uncomfortable. The sharpshooting Bucks also went ice cold from three for the night, shooting 7-of-34 (20.6 percent), meaning the Heat did not pay for their attention to Antetokounmpo.

Miami had its usual balanced attack. Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder each had 18 points, Goran Dragic 15, and Adebayo had 14 points and 13 boards to go with his stellar defense.

The most talked about sequence in this game came late. First, Miami’s Dragic went up for a shot knee first and caught George Hill right in the, er, groin. Hill was down for a bit. On the next trip down the court Antetokounmpo gave Goran a check from behind, just to balance the scales.

3) Knicks get physical with small-ball Rockets and pick up win. From the first day the Rockets went all-in on small ball the counter-reaction has been “just go big” and bully them. Utah tried to do that, but the Jazz are slumping, Rudy Gobert seemed off (or was thrown off by the style of play), and the red-hot Rockets handled the Jazz with little trouble.

The first team to use size to bully the Rockets? The Knicks.

In the first game under new team president Leon Rose, the Knicks were physical and took the Rockets out of their game, ultimately leading to a 125-123 New York win. That ended Houston’s six-game winning streak. RJ Barrett led the way wtih 27 points.

The Knicks got 16 points and 16 boards from Julius Randle.

James Harden had 35 points and eight assists but shot 3-of-13 from three. Russell Westbrook had 24 points and nine rebounds but missed a mid-range shot that could have sent the game to overtime.

It was a good win for the Knicks, the question is can other teams follow the same model for success against these Rockets?

LeBron James scores season-high 40, leads Lakers past Zion Williamson, Pelicans

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James had 40 points and eight rebounds in his first career meeting with Zion Williamson while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their sixth straight victory, 118-109 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

Anthony Davis had 21 points and 14 rebounds to remain unbeaten in his three meetings with his former team this season.

In the Lakers’ first game after an emotional memorial service for Kobe Bryant at Staples Center on Monday, James opened up a close contest with back-to-back buckets at the rim with about three minutes left. Danny Green sealed it for Los Angeles with his fifth 3-pointer with 51 seconds to play.

Williamson had 29 points and six rebounds in his first career showdown with James and Davis, his predecessor as the Pelicans’ centerpiece. In his 13th NBA game, Williamson scored at least 20 points for the ninth consecutive time, but managed only one field goal in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Ingram had 34 points against his former team, but just six in the final period as New Orleans lost for only the second time in seven games.

Williamson was still injured for the Pelicans’ first two meetings of the season with the Lakers, but the No. 1 overall pick’s delayed debut in Hollywood was as entertaining as everyone hoped. Williamson had several impressive dunks in his usual fearsome floor game, and only six missed free throws kept him from surpassing his career high of 32 points.

Davis is the leading scorer and rebounder in New Orleans franchise history, making six All-Star teams during his tenure. He went just 6 for 21 from the field in this meeting, failing to score 40 points against the Pelicans for the first time.

Lonzo Ball had 10 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, and Josh Hart scored three points in their second return to face the Lakers, who traded them to New Orleans along with Ingram last July for Davis.

The Pelicans also got three first-round draft picks in their princely haul for Davis, who had requested a trade. Davis has been just as good as the Lakers hoped in propelling them back to NBA championship contention, while the Pelicans are getting an All-Star season from Ingram alongside Williamson in an increasingly potent core.

James scored 11 points in less than two minutes early in the third quarter to stretch the Lakers’ lead to 14 points, but Ingram scored 10 in the period to keep it close.

Alex Caruso provided the Lakers with his usual injection of energy in the fourth quarter, particularly with a stunning block of Ball’s shot at the rim that left Ball flat on his back. Caruso finished with eight points and eight assists.